I don’t blame you for wanting to eat everything you can possibly get your hands on at night.
A few months ago, I was called in for jury duty. I had never been and was fairly happy about being able to sit and read a book for 8 hours straight. I thought, this can’t be that bad–basically an excuse to not be on the computer or do real work all day. Nice.
Or so I thought.
While I didn’t get picked, I still had to be in that tiny room, sitting in a tiny chair with 100 other people for 8 hours, and the farthest we could walk was the 50 feet to the bathroom. By 5pm, I was so stir crazy and annoyed by the confinement of the day that all my singular mind had the mental energy for was stopping by the store on the way home and then proceeding to guzzle an entire bottle of wine.
WHY DID THIS HAPPEN??
I was actually thinking to myself on the way home, “Now I understand why people who sit at a desk all day are so frigging drained when they get home, and it’s all they can do to NOT eat the house.”
Call it irritation, stress, annoyance, confinement, boredom, needing a reward, whatever. But after having probably logged 100 steps TOTAL that day and 8 HOURS OF SITTING, I felt 100% like I deserved a bottle of wine for my ability to do that. WTF? Haha!
How crazy is that??
And yet, so many of us feel like this every. Single. Day. Get home after a long day of being sedentary at work and can’t help but eat everything nonstop from dinner until bedtime. I get it. I do. Wow.
Mentally, we are on empty. Willpower is exhaustible, and at the end of a long day of just even TALKING, there’s none left. And when willpower is gone, all that’s left are the habits. So if you’ve developed good habits, those are in place. If you’ve developed poor habits (like sitting on the couch watching TV pounding chips), then those are there, too.
And isn’t TV funny? It’s actually EASIER to watch TV than it is to go to bed! Because going to bed requires brushing teeth and taking contacts out, changing clothes, etc. Ha! And so often we know we should just go to bed, but relaxing with TV and food is easier. Watching TV is the path of least resistance. I was talking about this with my mom recently and I was dying laughing because I was saying that TV is actually easier than sitting quietly alone, “because when you do that, you have to think about stuff,” is the reason my mom gave. And she’s exactly right! THINKING WHEN WE ARE DEPLETED IS HARD WORK. And resisting sweets and treats takes mindfulness, AKA “thinking” and thinking’s just not a luxury we have at night after a long, hard day of it.
So. I don’t blame you.
BUT! The issue is that we need to figure this out, because the current way of handling it is not working.
So, how do we then NOT eat a milling calories every night? Metabolic Effect calls this “continuous meal” when you eat from dinner time straight until bedtime. We do this, don’t we??
I thought about this from all angles and came up with 4 tools that can help:
1) Find ways to replenish willpower throughout the day.
You can think of your willpower like a battery that get drained as the day goes on. It’s highest in the morning (it’s no wonder people cite breakfast as their healthiest meal of the day!) and with every decision throughout the day, willpower gets less and less. So, it would follow that if you could take moments throughout the day to replenish it, charge the battery, you’d be more equipped to deal with resisting sweets at night.
Some of my favorite ways to boost willpower (AKA restorative activities) include leisure walking, 5-10 min meditation, light stretching of foam rolling, reading a book, creative writing in a journal, sketching or even light yoga or tai chi. Kelly McGonigal in her book, ‘The Willpower Instinct’ shows how even 5 minutes of meditation throughout the day can make a significant impact. I also recommend reading ‘The Power of Full Engagement’ by Tony Schwartz and ‘Switch’ by Chip and Dan Heath.
2) Eat more and satisfying stuff earlier in the day.
Often cravings are related to feelings of deprivation. When we feel deprived for a day or a week or a month, the compensatory overindulgence is inevitable. So, it would follow that if you can stay MORE satisfied and satiated throughout the day, that compensatory hunger and cravings would be less at night.
So the answer to quitting nighttime binging is actually NOT to be more strict during the day. This can be a tough pill to swallow though, especially when we wake up in a state of remorse from the night before–often we want to literally FAST all day “to make up for it.” No ma’am. Instead, find ways to preempt cravings and hunger.
First and foremost, this includes eating more protein and fiber-rich foods earlier in the day. They keep us feeling fuller for longer and stabilize energy. The second way is to incorporate preemptive cheats. I’ve written on these quite a bit, but they are foods that are satiating, but don’t necessarily help with fat loss. They are more neutral and we don’t need a lot to feel satisfied. Examples are: a couple strips of bacon, a few squares of dark chocolate, a sprinkle of cheese on salads or even a few slices of cheese off a block, avocado, guacamole, sugar-free fro-yo, or even a single glass of red wine. They help take the edge off but don’t usually add pounds if you are watching servings. They act as “built-in relief” for your diet. Have a serving each day or every other day.
3) Find workarounds.
Sometimes you just have to rewire your nighttime behaviors. I recommend checking out the book, ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg. The idea is that when you spend time building healthy habits, when your willpower gets drained, you default to those effective habits instead of poor ones.
Whatever you practice is what you get good at. And Day 1 of practice is always the hardest, but the more you do it, the more automatic it becomes. So workarounds will be things that take you AWAY from that typical couch-TV-food scenario. They are physical, nutritional or lifestyle-based tools. This is a modified version of what coach Mike T. Nelson uses as a guide for fasting:
Physical workarounds: Go workout after dinner, take a walk, do some light stretching or foam rolling, go to a yoga class, go dancing, etc.
Nutritional workarounds: Use the Metabolic Effect cocoa drink (1-2 TB unsweetened cocoa powder, hot water, stevia to taste) or a large hot tea. Both keep your mouth occupied! Take BCAAs or chug a liter of water.
Lifestyle workarounds: #GYAIB (Get Yo Ass In Bed) and read, meditate or have sex :), blog, pay the bills, call a friend, take a long, hot bath, etc.
Start by picking 1 or 2 things you could see yourself doing INSTEAD of your usual scenario and practice them until they become second nature. My personal tool is getting into bed right after a later dinner and reading.
4) Incorporate “Intermittent Sampling”: a practice in moderation.
My house, purse and gym bag are littered with half-eaten protein bars (wrapped, I swear!). Yes, it’s a touch gross but it serves a purpose. It’s part of what I call “intermittent sampling” and it’s a PRACTICE in moderation. “But Jill, I haaaaaaate moderation, AND I CAN’T DO IT!” I get it. I used to eat 5 protein bars in a row, nevermind a half or third of a bar–are you kidding me?? But, yes, over time, I started practicing NOT eating the whole thing. Here’s how:
I’d get a bar out and take 1/3 of it, eat it, get the taste and put the rest back into the cabinet or into my purse (ha!). Then, I’d go do something for AT LEAST 10 minutes. If I was still thinking about the bar, I’d go back and eat another third. Then I’d put it back. Same thing. This time I’d wait AT LEAST 20 minutes and if I still wanted more, I’d go back and finish it. Over time, more often than not, I was able to take a third or a half and forget about the rest until later.
This may seem silly but the idea that you can just go cold-turkey is a little shortsighted. And besides, I don’t want to have to go cold-turkey. I want to be able to control my cravings and use a moderate approach to feel satisfied with less. I used to be someone who would HAVE TO FINISH THE WHOLE BAG/PACKAGE/ROLL of whatever it was. And this was a practice that helped me overcome that.
The One Fry Rule: Another example. My brother Danny is 23 years old and he lives with Jade and I. Like most 23 year old guys, he orders a burger and fries 90% of the time we go to dinner. So I started just plucking one single fry from his plate every dinner. Even when I didn’t really want one. Simply to REINFORCE that I can taste something and then move on. I’d grab a fry, douse it in ranch :) and then proceed to eat my #BAS or protein & veggies. This became a practice that has carried over into all meals and all my interactions with food.
So, is there something you can PRACTICE moderation with? Remember, we are not trying to be perfect. We are trying to not eat a million calories at night. So even a little better is still an improvement. What food would you like to continue to be able to eat but need to practice your moderate approach around? Neghar pours baby glasses of wine and that’s what works for her.
This stuff may been neurotic or weird or overly obsessive, but it’s actually the opposite. Because these practices automatically put me in more control than ever, effortlessly. It’s simply just “the way I eat” now. No stress, no binging, no obsessive thinking about food, just self-trust, meal to meal, situation to situation. Over time, it’s completely liberating.
Hope these four things help! My advice is to start with just one option and see how you do, instead of trying to implement them all at once. Start with the easiest one first, the one you can see yourself doing right away. And then PRACTICE. And be gentle with yourself, and just do your best. Many of us have many million-calorie nights to overturn in terms of habit formation. So relax into the process and don’t expect perfection and I promise it’ll get more manageable with time. Good luck! Ox, Jill
Related: The First Step in Quitting the Deprive-then-Binge Cycle